The psychological effects of favoritism on a child

Updated April 17, 2017

Parents are often unaware of favouring one child over the others but the effects can be detrimental to the less-than-favoured child. Shame and low self-esteem may take root as a result of this favouritism. Favouritism can also be something that only exists in the mind of a very jealous or hurt child. Examples of showing favouritism include administering less severe consequences for the same wrongdoings, centring family events around one particular child and buying the favoured child more material possessions than the others.

Favoured Child

The favoured child often grows up to view himself in an unrealistic manner; he may feel he is more important than others. This may lead to frustrations and difficulty communicating in intimate and social relationships. The favoured child may have an extremely difficult time dealing with rejection and disappointment. He may feel guilty, have less closeness with his siblings and be expected to care for his ageing parents. The favoured child may not develop a strong work ethic if he doesn't have a strong desire to please others.


According to Cornell University human development researcher Karl Pillemer, playing favourites among children has long-term effects on them even after they leave home and start families of their own. His study showed that more adult children perceive favouritism than mothers admit and that adult children who perceive their mother had a favourite child score higher for depression than others. Early relationships with parents and siblings help construct the way the world is viewed. Although adults can work to change thoughts and behaviours, it can be a challenge to reconstruct the deeply ingrained messages that favouritism delivers.

Increased Sibling Rivalry

As child may not be aware that she is the favoured one. As she grows older, the favoured child may find that she is isolated and possibly shunned by her siblings. The sibling rivalry may increase between them, ramping up the jealousy, anger and competitive feelings. In larger families, the isolation can be unbearable as more than one child may turn away from the favoured child. As the children grow up, the rifts often widen as the favouritism continues when the children leave home.


Parents can take steps to decrease or eliminate favouritism in their families. Develop a set of rules in your house to which everyone adheres. Have the same consequences for a broken rule for each child, taking into account age and maturity. Avoid getting involved in your children's conflicts unless absolutely necessary. Physical and verbal aggression requires parental intervention. If you must get involved, emotionally detach yourself from the situation so you can be fair and just. Call each child on his wrongdoings and deliver swift and immediate consequences. Punish the behaviour and leave their relationship to them. Set limits for gifts so each child receives the same amount. Lastly, avoid comparing your children. Accept each one for who he is.

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About the Author

Karen Kleinschmidt has been writing since 2007. Her short stories and articles have appeared in "Grandma's Choice," "Treasure Box" and "Simple Joy." She has worked with children with ADHD, sensory issues and behavioral problems, as well as adults with chronic mental illness. Kleinschmidt holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Montclair State University.